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Time, Inc. v. Hill - 384 U.S. 995, 86 S. Ct. 1911 (1966)

Rule:

The constitutional protections for speech and press preclude the application of a New York statute to redress false reports of matters of public interest in the absence of proof that the defendant published the report with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth.

Facts:

Appellee, Hill, and his family in 1952 were held hostage in their home by some escaped convicts and were ultimately released unharmed without any violence having occurred. They later moved away and appellee discouraged further publicity efforts about the incident, which had caused extensive involuntary notoriety. A novel about a hostage incident but depicting considerable violence later appeared, and was subsequently made into a play, these portrayals having been shaped by several incidents. Appellant's magazine, Life, published an account of the play, relating it to the Hill incident, describing the play as a re-enactment, and using as illustrations photographs of scenes staged in the former Hill home. Alleging that the Life article gave the knowingly false impression that the play depicted the Hill incident, appellee sued for damages under a New York statute providing a cause of action to a person whose name or picture is used by another without consent for purposes of trade or advertising.

Issue:

Was appellant denied its constitutional protections of speech and press by the application of N.Y. Civ. Rights Law §§ 50-51 to award appellee damages?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On appeal, judgment was reversed and remanded. In support of its ruling, the Supreme Court held that the constitutional protections for speech and press precluded the application of the statute to redress false reports of matters of public interest in the absence of proof that appellant published the report with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth. The Court noted that the evidence could have supported either a jury finding of innocent or merely negligent misstatement by appellant, or a finding of appellant's reckless disregard of the truth or actual knowledge of falsity. The jury instruction given by the lower court, however, failed to confine the jury to a verdict of liability based upon a finding that the statements in the article were made with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard of the truth.

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